Thank You for Your Service with Dan Berei, the Founder of Combat Flags
It was just another boring day at work.
Dan Berei sat in the same cubicle in the same office, helping the same company make money.
The job paid his bills but left him missing a true purpose – the kind he’d felt when he was in the military.
Now in his mid-twenties, Dan was struggling to fit in with his civilian peers. He’d joined the army while still in high school, with his mother’s concerned consent. While his civilian peers had been in college and starting careers, he’d been training in psychological operations, Airborne school, and language school. He’d been on two back to back deployments to the Philippines as part of the Global War on Terror.
Dan had been with a small contingency of US military Special Operations and Special Forces, working counterinsurgency and training their Filipino counterparts to do the same. It was about halfway through his second deployment that Dan realized he was not going to make a career out of the military.
Things were getting more serious with his girlfriend, and Dan was ready to focus on family life. “I knew I was ready to get out and see what the rest of the world had to offer,” he says.
Everything seemed to fall into place. He neatly packed away all of his military items and planned to leave that life entirely behind him. He started college, married his girlfriend and found a job.
For all outward appearances, Dan never skipped a beat between military and civilian life. For a while he even convinced himself he was doing fine. But over time it became impossible for Dan to ignore the smoldering stress he felt gaining intensity within him.
The disconnect was growing. He’s an introvert by nature, which made it even more difficult for him to relate to fellow college students, several years younger than him, with none of the characteristics of the men and women he’d served with. He studied alongside these students, but never with them.
He missed the camaraderie of the military. He missed the universal sense of purpose they shared. He had his health, his wife, his family, and his job – but it wasn’t enough. He needed to feel he had a higher purpose again. He needed to feel his life was meaningful, adding value to others and to his country again.
“It’s tough going from high school into the world, knowing what your mission is and what your purpose is, who you’re helping and why you’re doing it, to being 24 years old, where my purpose in life is to help a company make money and look good.” His head shakes as he explains the glaring difference between a purpose-driven life and an unfocused path.
Dan Berei was quietly slipping into the void so many people who lose a sense of purpose do.
Whether a person leaves the military, loses a spouse or a child, or is otherwise awakened to a sense of emptiness and a feeling as if they do not belong anywhere, it is a dangerous place to be. A person can silently drown in a swimming pool next to family and friends who mistake the flailing or bobbing for play, and a person can silently surrender passion and a will to live the same way.
For Dan, the feeling intensified so much he found himself back in the recruiter’s office. He was moments away from returning to the world he felt familiar in before he reconsidered.
He’d been wrong, he realized, to believe that the physical act of packing every last military item away had meant he’d severed all ties to that life. That’s the wrong way to leave the military, he says. “You make those connections and that’s part of who you are.”
As tempting as it may have been to make a drastic about-face and reenter the military, Dan still had a lot to live for in the civilian world. He just needed to find a way to blend his love of the military and those who serve in it, with a purpose that fulfilled him, while supporting his family and being present in their lives.
It’s the magic formula so many people seek, and too many never find.
That formula took shape in Dan’s mind as he sat in his cubicle that morning. The familiar rush of boredom and frustration swooshed in, and Dan looked up the flag he had hanging there. A new rush hit him and at that moment he knew he was going to do something that connected the American citizen with the human stories of those who serve. He also knew he needed to give back in a meaningful manner.
Dan Berei left work that day with a general idea for Combat Flags.
He went home and began gathering uniforms from his friends and began testing his idea. He knew we wanted to make hand-sewn flags. He knew he wanted to offer a tangible piece of freedom to Americans, and he knew he wanted to share the real-life stories of those who serve.
It always gnawed on him when the media reports statistics behind surges and withdrawals without adding any element of the human nature behind those statistics. So a driving force behind Combat Flags it to make it personal for people.
It was all a good idea. There was only one issue – he had no idea how to sew.
That was just a small hurdle for Dan, who believes “an idea is only as good as what you’re willing to do with it.”
“So I did what any good millennial would do – I googled it,” he laughs. Endless hours of youtube videos later, he taught himself how to sew.
Today Combat Flags has a buffet of patriotic products – including hand-sewn flags made from the donated uniforms of service members and bear a story about that service member on the back.
His hope is that by providing a tangible piece of that cost of freedom with a personal story of a service member, people who buy or receive a combat flag will feel more connected to the veterans and active duty military members in this country.
Meaningfully supporting veterans is something Dan is committed to doing. Having felt the dangerous lows after service, he is determined to do his part to help his brothers and sisters escape the void he narrowly missed falling into. He hopes all veterans find their purpose after service, and reminds them, “There’s no shame in asking for help.”
So a hefty part of his proceeds is donated to the non-profit, Stop Soldier Suicide.
Dan Berei served his country and did his part to ensure we all have the opportunity to achieve our American Dreams.
Now he’s living his own. He wants all Americans to understand the cost of the opportunities we have as much as he wants them to take advantage of those opportunities, and judging by the tens of thousands of people who can’t get enough of Combat Flags, his message is spreading.